SOOCHOW AND TAHU WATERWAYS BRIDGES House-Boats—No. r Boy—The Shanghai-Nanking Railway—On our Boats— Curiosity of the Country People—My First Impressions of Chinese Water ways—Bridges—Water-raising Machines—Passing through a Village.
An expedition to Soochow and Tahu which I was asked to join, and which proved most enjoy able, was made at Easter. Two house-boats, the Togo and the Leila, provided ample accommodation for our party ; one boat was quite luxuriously fitted up, and the other was quite comfortable. One could not wish for more comfortable travelling than these Shanghai house-boats afford. Of course they are specially built for foreigners' use.
The No. 1 Boy was instructed to make all arrange ments for our journey. I may mention that the No. 1 Boy in a European's house in the East is the chief native servant, and occupies a similar position to the butler at home (all servants are called " boys," whatever their age) ; he in most cases runs the house ; he engages all the other servants, and gets his squeeze (commission) from them and from the tradespeople, and although he may be paid a fair wage, his " extras " are quite con siderable in a house of any size.
I heard the orders given to the No. i—Yung Yung— who has been in the family nearly all his life. They were short but clear :— " Boy, in two three day Missessee, my, young Missessee, Missessee 0. and Mister T. (myself) all go house-boat, seven piecee man, you go house-boats, talkee that boatman, make all thing proper." These few in structions were quite enough to insure everything being made ready for our trip.
To save time and get quickly up country, the boats were ordered to proceed in advance to Soochow, where we would meet them, while we travelled by the new Shanghai-Nanking Railway, which is quite equal to any of our home railways in smooth running and accommo dation. At Soochow we found our boats waiting for us in the creek quite near the station, which is outside the city walls. Like our own folks sixty or seventy years ago, the Chinese try to keep their railways out side the cities, and I suppose in time to come they will like ourselves be sorry for it.
We at once went on board, and were soon being quietly propelled along by our coolies with three great oars or yuloos, two to each boat with three coolies to each yuloo ; it is a very pleasant movement, and a delightful change, after the noise of the city life, to get away quietly on the water. I in particular felt the relief of being away from the crowds of natives swarming round me as I worked.
We left . Soochow at once, being anxious to get farther up to the district of the Tahu (Great Lake). Our first afternoon's journey took us above Mutu, where, near a picturesque bridge, we tied up for the night. No sooner had we come to anchor than the curious native appeared, and many crowded round on the banks watching us ; they were much interested in the ladies and children of our party—we men are more common, and do not excite such curiosity.
The country folks are most inquisitive about Euro pean ladies and children, and wish to closely examine and finger their dresses. The fair, daintily-dressed children seemed specially to please them. The Chinese are very fond of children, and I have heard it said that a foreigner might go anywhere in China, not only with safety but sure of great courtesy, if accompanied by a young child.
It was on this trip that I got my first impressions of the creeks and rivers which lead into the interior, and along which for centuries has been borne the merchandise of China. Until now, water carriage has been the principal means of conveyance in this (and indeed a large) part of China, and by water one can go almost anywhere. It is like a vast network spreading all over the country, extend ing far and near ; providing at the same time easy means of irrigation, maintaining thereby the richness and fertility of the land and a ready means of transit for its products.